For movie watchers, few things can be more frustrating than films that begin with a sequence of immense promise, only to show over the remainder that the emperor truly wears no clothes. Two new examples come from the horror realm.
Until now, Ethan Hawke was having a wonderful year. Before Midnight, the third leg of his trilogy with director Richard Linklater and actress Julie Delpy, brought waves of critical acclaim and talk of another Oscar nomination for their collaborative screenplay, while The Purge turned a meager investment into a highly profitable box-office take.
Neither a chain of spice stores nor a Food Network program, The Seasoning House is a bleak-as-nuclear-winter thriller set during the Balkan conflict of the 1990s. A deaf girl named Angel (Brit teen Rosie Day) is taken from her home by soldiers who shoot her mother dead.
Paul Schrader’s The Canyons opens and closes with a montage of abandoned movie theaters. For this film in particular, that choice strikes one as symbolic in several ways: not only as a comment on the state of the industry, but on the state of The Canyons itself. You’re unlikely to find many 2013 films this empty.
What's a director of classic musicals doing in science fiction? Making Saturn 3, one of the worst of the genre Hollywood made in the immediate post-Star Wars / Alien era. Stanley Donen (Singin' in the Rain) takes to it about as well as you'd expect; he's in over his head.
I'm not of the opinion that remakes are automatically a bad thing. Without them, we wouldn't have David Cronenberg's The Fly or John Carpenter's The Thing. The difference is that examples like those had a different way of telling the established story.
Total Recall, on the other hand, just feels like a brand-name cow Hollywood thought was due for milking.
While fondly remembered by a generation as one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's blockbustiest blockbusters, the 1990 original is only half a great movie, so room for improvement existed. The new version is better only in the department of special effects — a given, considering the leaps in technology in the two decades since, such as a little something called computer-generated imagery.
In his second remake lead in a row following last summer's Fright Night, Colin Farrell is a better actor than Schwarzenegger, but falls short in presence. He acquits himself OK enough as Quaid, the bored factory worker who longs for adventure and escape, and finds it at Rekall, a memory-implantation firm that can supply him with the secret-agent fantasy he so desires.
But just as the procedure has begun, something goes wrong, and a shootout ensues. Suddenly, Quaid exhibits action-hero moves he didn't know he had. Plus, his not-really wife (a bland Kate Beckinsale, Contraband) joins everyone else in trying to kill him. Is it real, or is it Memorex?
If you haven't seen the first Recall film, but have seen this version's trailer, then you've already seen the soulless flick. Watching Farrell and his mysterious accomplice (a miscast Jessica Biel, The A-Team) run, run, run is less a shot of adrenaline and more akin to watching the trailer on a loop. Director Len Wiseman, aka Mr. Beckinsale, the auteur behind his wife's Underworld franchise, shoots (no pun intended) the action at such a quick clip (again, unintended), it is to his own detriment. I found myself struggling with simple spatial orientation. As slick as it looks, it makes no visual sense.
Plus, he and screenwriters Kurt Wimmer (Salt) and Mark Bomback (Unstoppable) haven't tinkered much with the story. The tweaks that have made, like letting Beckinsale survive longer than Sharon Stone did, amount to naught. While never reaching Mars, Recall 2012 hits all the beats of Recall1990, right down to the "If I'm not me, who the hell am I?" line and one tri-breasted hooker. It even makes direct references to its predecessor, but in a joking manner, like an elbow nudge to your side. Yes, Len, I got it — I don't want it, but I got it.
In interest of full disclosure and critical ethics, I must admit I left the advance screening of Total Recall with 28 minutes left to go (and for such an effects-heavy film, about 10 to 12 of them had to be the end credits). My early exit wasn't so much because of the film's Total disengagement with me, but more due to the theater feeling like an oven. So overheated I was, the outdoor temps, as scorching as they were, felt like relief, in more ways than one. —Rod Lott